“No,” I said, carefully climbing off of him and taking a few steps away. My heart was on a roller coaster of pure adrenaline and terrifying drops of fear.
“Lib?” He tilted his head.
“No,” I said. “You can’t do that.”
He sighed. “I have to,” he said. “I can’t lose you.”
“Nixon, you love football. It’s a part of your soul. It’s your personal way of honoring Nick—”
“I love you more,” he cut me off.
A rock lodged itself in my throat, tears coating my eyes. “And you have no idea how much that means to me.” I shook my head. “How much it means to me that you’d even contemplate it, but I love you enough to not let you do it.”
“You don’t get a say in it.”
“It’s my future,” he said, and his eyes fell to my swollen tummy. “And all I want is you and that little whoosh. Us. Sure, I love my job. Love the field and the guys and the snap. But it’s nothing compared to family. To my need for you.”
I swallowed hard, raking my fingers through my hair. “Nixon,” I said. “I love what I’m doing here. But I love you too much to let you give up your career.”
“And I can’t ask you to give up yours. I’ve seen it first-hand now, the good you’re doing here. The real impact on the world you’re having.” He sighed. “So we’re right back to where we started. See?” he asked, stepping closer to cup my cheek. “This is the only answer. Me leaving the NFL.”
“Nixon, that’s not a solution. It’s killing off your dream—”
“So yours can thrive,” he cut me off, grazing his thumb over my lip. “And if that is what it takes then it’s worth it. You’re worth it.” He smoothed his other hand over my belly. “We’re worth it, don’t you think?”
“I want to be with you,” I said, my head spinning. “Nixon, God, I love you. I’m just torn. There has to be a better way—”
“Mr. Noble?” a man called from just outside.
“What?” Nixon snapped.
“This storm is shifting,” the man said. Nixon’s helicopter pilot. “We have to leave now if we’re going to get ahead of it. Otherwise you’ll be grounded here for the next forty-eight hours.
Nixon tensed against me.
“Go,” I said, damn near shoving him away from me.
“Lib, no, we have to figure this out.”
“You already broke contract coming here!” I snapped. “If you’re gone more than a day…” I shook my head. “Go, Nixon. Please? And don’t tell them anything definitive regarding that contract.”
Nixon furrowed his brow as he didn’t move against my attempts to push him out the door. Instead, he wrapped his arms around me, slanting his mouth over mine in a frantic kiss.
“Go,” I said again, breaking the kiss. “I need you safe.”
“I need you safe,” he argued.
“I’m fine here on the ground.”
Nixon backed up one step, then two. “Liberty…” He let my name hang there, a question and a plea.
“I love you.” It’s all I could say.
And something clicked in those eyes—some flicker of pain that crushed my entire heart as he spun and rushed through the tent’s flap.
I stood there for over an hour, listening as the storm gathered steam and thrashed in the sky. The roaring thunder matching the slew of emotions thrashing in my soul.
I didn’t sleep that night.
Didn’t relax for a minute.
Because the love of my life was willing to risk his dream to be with me, and I loved him enough to stop him.
And I had a pretty damn good idea on how to do that.
The holiday party was in full swing, but I wasn’t exactly in a festive mood. I twisted the glass in my hand as bubbles frothed to the surface. The trick to getting everyone to leave you alone when you weren’t drinking was to fill a highball glass with ginger ale. The color let people assume, and people—as always—assumed.
“Ah, the broody Nixon we all know and love has returned,” Hendrix remarked as he leaned against the bar next to me.
“Thought you’d have left with one of the cheerleaders by now.” They were all here. Players, cheerleaders, staff, wives and girlfriends…just not mine.
Not that I even knew if I had one.
Liberty and I loved each other. That much was certain. The rest…well, we seemed to be at an impasse—or so she thought. I loved her even more for telling me that I couldn’t give up my career for the sake of hers, but in this one regard, I held the power. And from the few hours I’d spent with her in Brazil, and the few minutes it had taken for us to get tangled up in each other again, I knew she wasn’t exactly going to throw me out when I showed up there at the end of the season.